Last updated on July 1st, 2019 at 12:45 pm
In 2015, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that, while 21.7 million Americans needed substance abuse treatment, only 2.3 million people received it. In other words, only about 10% of the population received professional help for their addiction.
Illicit drug use, such as heroin, can be life-threatening at any point during one’s use. Sobriety is a necessary step toward regaining control and happiness over one’s life.
But what about the heroin addiction recovery rate? Do we see success stories? Are people building the lives they want?
Let’s get into what you need to know!
Understanding The Heroin Epidemic
Despite the recent opioid epidemic, research from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that half as many people tried heroin for the first time in 2017 as in 2016.
However, heroin and other opioid use remains a continuous problem throughout America. Overdose rates continue to ravage the lives of individuals and their loved ones. Entire communities have experienced the devastation these drugs can have on their homes and societies.
Who Uses Heroin?
Nearly 100,000 Americans reported using heroin in 2016. It’s a concerning trend (even if it’s allegedly on the decline).
When most people think of a heroin user, they envision the scrawny and sketchy guy living on the side of the road. They think of the classic ‘junkie’ stereotype.
However, heroin doesn’t just exist on the side of the road in the veins of homeless men and women. Heroin also lurks in American suburbia, in high-achieving schools, and in stay-at-home mothers with chronic pain conditions.
In fact, many people start using heroin as a result of being prescribed prescription painkillers like Oxycontin, Morphine, or Norco.
These painkillers, which have medicinal purposes, can become easily abused. That’s because people quickly develop a tolerance and physical dependence on these substances.
Entering withdrawals can be incredibly painful. Thus, the person will continue taking the drug to ward off the unpleasant feelings.
Because physicians must limit refills and prescription lengths, some people turn to other methods to achieve the opioid sensations. They often end up turning to heroin, as its cheaper, more accessible, and doesn’t require any prescriptions.
Why is Heroin So Dangerous?
Heroin is an opioid derived from morphine, a naturally existing substance from opium poppy plants.
However, heroin comes with serious potential side effects including:
- Liver disease
- Pulmonary infections
- Collapsed veins
- Chronic constipation and irritable bowels
- Kidney problems and disease
- Heart valve infections
- Skin abscesses
- The risk of contracting HIV or Hepatitis C
Furthermore, it’s becoming harder and harder to find ‘pure’ heroin. Instead, most street dealers cut heroin with other potent synthetics, such as Fentanyl or carfentanil (both of which can be 100x stronger than heroin).
Therefore, many people use heroin without knowing exactly what they are putting in their bodies. They face the risk of overdosing, which can be fatal.
Why Do People Continue Using Heroin Despite The Dangers?
Many people use heroin for the positive sensations it creates. Heroin can feel incredibly euphoric. It enters the brain rapidly, and it can evoke an ‘immediate’ rush of pleasure.
Others will use it to numb their feelings or to escape their problems and fears. This is often characteristic of addiction. The person believes he or she cannot cope with life without the substance.
Finally, heroin withdrawal can be incredibly distressing. The symptoms can include:
- Intense cravings
- Severe bone and muscle pain
- Diarrhea or continued constipation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Cold sweats and gooseflesh
- Kicking movements
While the withdrawal symptoms typically peak between one to three days, many people describe them as one of the worst experiences in the world.
For this reason, even though users may have the best intentions to quit or reduce use, the terrible withdrawals can make it feel impossible.
Understanding Heroin Addiction Treatment
Seeking help for heroin addiction can be one of the most frightening decisions someone can make. It can also be one of the most rewarding.
The decision to attempt sobriety is one that people usually contemplate long before they first step foot into a treatment center.
As mentioned, heroin withdrawal symptoms can be fierce. Initially, they are what typically discourage people from abstaining from use.
Detox represents the first step for someone seeking formal help for heroin addiction. The length of detox can range from 5-10 days depending on the individual, types of drugs used, and other medical conditions.
Detox provides on-site monitoring and clinical management. Some centers offer medications for those experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms.
While detox alone does not treat the heroin addiction, it provides the first step towards stabilization and sobriety.
There are a variety of drug and alcohol treatment facilities available to individuals struggling with a heroin addiction.
Treatment can vary drastically, depending on financial factors, individual preferences, location, and medical history. However, all treatment is designed to help people reestablish and rebuild their lives absent from mood-altering substances.
Inpatient treatment provides round-the-clock supervision and structure for patients. Individuals live on-site (or at another established site) and receive a variety of clinical services ranging from individual therapy to medical appointments to even spiritual advising and nutrition-based counseling.
In addition to inpatient treatment, there is also partial-hospitalization (PHP), intensive outpatient (IOP) and outpatient (OP) levels of care. Each of these provides structured and monitored schedules for patients. However, they do not require 24-hour supervision.
In treatment, individuals learn various life skills, relapse prevention techniques, and support with self-esteem and mood management.
Staying Sober From Heroin
Unfortunately, relapse rates for heroin (and all other drugs) remain high. Because addiction represents a chronic disease, relapse can very much be part of the recovery process.
With that said, several factors can increase an individual’s chance for success.
Prioritizing Recovery First
Getting sober is one thing. Staying sober is an entirely different story. The work required in staying sober is both continuous and evolving.
Successful people in recovery put their sobriety above everything else. That includes work, school, and even family and friends. They believe that if they don’t put their recovery first, they won’t be able to have or enjoy all those other things in their life.
Prioritizing your recovery means doing whatever it takes to stay sober. If that means attending inpatient treatment, so be it. If that means committing to prayer every single morning, get on board.
Research shows that positive social interactions with those who support abstinence can improve one’s chances for sobriety.
In a study examining more than 1,700 participants, the results found that greater participation in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was positively associated with successful, sustained recovery.
However, AA is only one option. There are numerous 12-step groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous, Heroin Anonymous, Pills Anonymous, and Nar-Anon available to those in recovery (or for those who have loved ones in recovery).
Additionally, there are other secular alternatives, such as SMART Recovery, Women for Sobriety, LifeRing, Moderation Management, and Secular Organizations For Sobriety.
Reaching Out For Help
A successful recovery entails a level of vulnerability. That means letting go of dark secrets and shame and letting other people in.
Whether it’s through a licensed therapist, pastor or priest, or even just a friend, it’s essential to learn how to ask for help. Identifying feelings and sharing them with another person is powerful. It evokes human connection and decreases toxic shame.
Most people do not adequately take care of themselves when active in their addictions. They may neglect their hygiene and appearance. They may ignore their nutrition, and they may disregard having a healthy sleep schedule.
Successful recovery requires self-care and self-compassion. By taking the time to develop positive habits, people learn how to implement stress management. They also learn how to value taking care of themselves before trying to spread themselves too thin.
Triggers can happen anywhere. They can exist in a familiar place, a toxic friendship, or even in a nostalgic smell. When someone doesn’t know their triggers, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and distressed when they arise.
Identifying current and potential triggers can be empowering. This process allows people to create action-based plans for managing difficult moments. It also allows them to insulate themselves with more support during these times.
Many people use heroin to numb and check out from life altogether. Reentering back into the real world can feel frightening.
Stress management is critical. This includes learning how to stay in the now by practicing mindfulness and meditation. It also includes determining how to identify what is and what isn’t in one’s control.
Finally, stress management means having other enjoyable activities and hobbies that evoke feelings of joy and recreation. These can range from physical activities to artistic expression to social interactions.
In early recovery, some people cannot live in their homes if other tenants are using drugs or alcohol. The situation becomes too triggering.
Sober environments, such as formal sober livings or halfway homes, provide the opportunity for like-minded individuals to reside together collectively. Tenants pay rent, collaborate on chores, and receive routine drug tests.
If it’s not possible to move out of the home, experts recommend having an honest conversation with your family or roommates. This may consist of asking to uphold a no-drug policy at home, and it may require removing any triggering paraphenelia.
What Is The Heroin Addiction Recovery Rate?
Studies on recovery success rates have been historically challenging to find. Many people drop out of studies (due to relapse). Furthermore, it can be hard to find a quality sample group that represents the general population struggling with addiction.
However, the chronic nature of addiction means that people do relapse, and relapse rates are similar to those of other chronic medical illnesses. If and when people stop following their treatment protocols, they are likely to relapse.
In research comparing relapse rates between substance use and other chronic illnesses, up to 40-60% of individuals relapse.
It can also be challenging to identify the nature of a relapse. If, for example, a heroin user drinks alcohol, is it considered a relapse? What if he receives a narcotic IV drip at a hospital post-surgery?
For these reasons, it’s essential for anyone struggling with addiction to have a personalized relapse prevention plan. Having a professional or support group assist with this plan can best keep people on track.
What Are The Signs of A Relapse?
While relapse can occur at any time during any stage of recovery, the following symptoms could reveal a slippery slope:
- Disregarding responsibilities at work or school
- Increased depression or anxiety
- Lack of interest in usual hobbies or activities
- Increase in lying or sneaking around
- Becoming overly defensive over various behavior
- Engaging in impulsive or radical behavior
- Feeling unmotivated
- Becoming easily angered or irritated
- Feelings of dissatisfaction with life
- Associating with old friends or partners associated with addiction
These warning signs can creep up in insidious ways. Before realizing it, the individual may be in full-blown relapse mode.
That’s why it’s so important to know the signals and recognize them as they start happening. Having strong accountability with other people helps. Additionally, identifying all the reasons to stay sober and push through the distress can also help.
While relapse can and does occur, it does not mean someone failed. Rather, it’s a sign that something wasn’t working, and that something must be changed.
There’s no doubt that heroin addiction represents a severe and concerning problem in modern society. Even though the heroin addiction recovery rate may seem bleak, people are transforming their lives every single day.
We want to help you find your light! Contact us today for any questions related to addiction, treatment, or scheduling an intervention. We’re here to support you.